“The Details of Organization Must Be Well Coordinated”: The Annual Report of the Board of Supervisors, County of Los Angeles, Fiscal Year Ending 30 June 1927, Part Four

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

We conclude this in-depth look at the informative and interesting 1926-1927 annual report of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors with a review of quite a diversity of county departments and institutions, along with general financial information, starting with the Probation Committee, which oversaw detention facilities for troubled youth, including Juvenile Hall and Hospital and the El Retiro School for Girls.

For the former, it was stated that a building program was proceeding apace, including work on the grounds, while there were approved plans with bids to soon be taken for a 116-bed hospital and a school building with eight classrooms and an auditorium. Plans were being drawn up for two dormitories, one for each sex and each with 60 rooms, while the budget for 1927-1928 including expanding and renovating the adminstration building, so that it would include the court and probation offices.

Meanwhile, improvements were made to existing structures so that partitions in the boys’ quarters were taken down two create two large wards rather than badly ventilated single rooms and dividers were also removed from the old school building to enlarge spaces there, as well. As to the population served during the year, it may be surprising to note that, out of almost 4,000 children who “passed through” the hall, 57% were boys, though it was not stated why young people were sent there. The overall increase was not far above 7% from the previous year, though girls stayed an average three weeks, while boys were there for two.

El Retiro began as a sanatarium, one of many in greater Los Angeles as “health seekers” sought cures or relief for tuberculosis and other conditions, but it soon was acquired by the county to work with “incorrigible” girls, not those charged with crimes but runaways and those with other issues. It was stated that the goal was for education and vocational instruction so they could “be self-supporting and self-respecting individuals, becoming an asset to society rather than a drain upon it.” Located in what is now Sylmar, the facility was said to have had “a great deal done [to it] . . . to add to the beauty and comfort” on the institution. The quarters of superintendent Alma Holzschuh were expanded, two bathrooms added to one of the student cottage and a water heater installed at the bath house.

For 1927-1928, it was planned to build a dormitory for twelve girls and a teacher and with a dining room, kitchen, bath and central patio, with others to follow so that single cottages were to be moved—the idea to provide “more individual attention and home life” in group living. There was a capacity of 54 young women with the average age being 15 and each prospective resident underwent physical and psychological testing as “the school accepts no feeble minded girl.”

Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, 13 August 1927.

Yet, very shortly after the report was issued, in August, Holzschuh, who was an expert in juvenile delinquency and hired to oversee El Retiro in fall 1924, was abruptly removed, ostensibly because of poor communication with the committee. A new superintendent, Rosemary Good [note the surname], replaced her and purportedly moved to instill more of a prison-like system than a reform one. This led a cadre of 18 girls to walk off the campus in protest and head towards Los Angeles and the Juvenile Hall.

Though the Van Nuys News reported that there was a riot with Good overpowered by the girls (likely her story to the paper), it turned out that the departure was peaceful and the girls were not only taken to the Juvenile Hall, but an investigation was launched while El Retiro was temporarily closed. After a few months, it was determined that changes were to be made that took the protesting girls’ concerns into account and Good was replaced by a well-known local social worker. As for Holzschuh, who went on to do work for juvenile delinquency commissions, she later ran the California Institution for Women at Tehachapi from 1942-1952 and then after its move to Chino until she retired in 1959. The site of El Retiro, which closed two years later, is now part of the Sylmar Recreation Center.

The Probation Department summary noted that the juvenile division dealt with nearly 4,500 petitions in the previous year, just more than three-quarters of which involved boys, showing that the issue of criminal behavior was far more likely with them than girls, though about a quarter of the boys petitions dealt with traffic violations (there were just five girls in this category.) About a third of all petitions involved young people who had no parent or guardian providing meaningful control in their lives. The juvenile court had over 18,000 cases with more than 27,000 investigations calls made on them.

With respect to divorce courts, there was one probation officer as a referee under a judge’s oversight, while two officers were dispatched to investigate conditions at home. If it was determined that there was a lack of proper care, the probation officer handled placement “in a neutral home.” It was reported that “one marked change has taken place in the care of feeble-minded children by the opening of the Pacific Colony at Spadra” in what is now the southwest corner of Pomona.

Operated by the state, the institution was “for the care of mentally defective children,” though sixty of them sent there were considered “high grade” until those who were “low grade” could be accommodated. Renamed the Lanterman Center and dealing with what became better described as “developmental disabilities,” the facility closed at the end of 2014, though the 300-acre property was transferred to Cal Poly Pomona, though its future looks to involve housing and retail as well as educational elements.

The adult division investigated almost 1600 cases with a little above 40% being granted and there were just a bi more than 1,150 cases of men and women under probagtion supervision, with the average period being thre years. There was, however, a major violation of problem among men, who were said to desert the area “because of wanderlust, the desire to return home, indifference or persecution, [and] leav[ing] the state or drop]ping] from sight.” A pair of investigators spent their time tracking down violators, though it was added that the rate was no more than 10% of all persons on parole.

As noted in an earlier part in this series, the department also handled paroles from the county jail and road camps, with 641 persons falling under this category. These were prisoners under short sentences so turnover was rapid, though only about 6% violated the terms. Parole for these minor offenders saved the county about $81,000 in food “and incidental jail overhead expense” as some 225 people were kept out of jail each month under the system.

The Superintendent of Schools noted that “the prevailing notion seems to be that Los Angeles County is divided into two groups, the school of Los Angeles City and the Schools of Los Angeles County.” There were only two districts, for elementary and junior high age students and for high schoolers, in the city, but 131 of the former and 27 of the latter in the county. While this officer oversaw all county schools it was added that “the intensity of the supervision . . . decreaes in propotion to the closeness of the supervision exercised by the governing boards of the school districts.”

Architectural renderings of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

There were also four assistant superintendents, a countywide chief of attendance (dealing with truancy) and a half-dozen visiting teachers denoted as “Rural Supervisors” for districts with fewer than 300 average daily attendees. As for teacher certification, there were 5,700 of them issued with over 80% of these teachers being women and there were some 30,000 people who had certification records with the system. The aggregate number of teachers was not far below 14,000, though nothing was reported as to the student population of these 158 districts. Total receipts totaled about $76 million and about $61.6 million was disbursed.

The Otis Art Institute, a school of fine and applied arts, was under the aegis of the county as a department of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County). It opened in the home, known as “the Bivouac” and located on Wilshire Boulevard, of legendary Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, just after his death in 1917. A decade later, it was reported that the recently concluded fiscal year was “the most successful in its history” after steady growth in enrollment and work quality.

Patriotic Hall, now the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, completed in 1925.

It was averred that the Institute “ranks as being one of the best art schools in the country” and brought more students from outside California and the nation with each passing year. In 1926-1927, there were more than 600 students in 34 classes involving design, drawing, painting and sculpture. Students winning honors were lauded including a couple who won “maintenance scholarships” and others getting cash prizes from the Bivouac Club and other organizations. Beyond art exhibits, there were practical designs of note from students for billboards, advertising and others. The Institute is now in Westchester, near Los Angeles International Airport.

The Los Angeles County Library report observed that “when a high grade of service is expected from a number of people involved in carrying on a business, the working arrangements must be reasonably good and the details of organization must be well coordinated.” The system had 212 employees, of which almost 50 were in the “Main Office,” and the rest in branches, with a 1925 manual of instruction credited for better results throughout.

Since 1924, seventeen branches were put into new structures, while another twenty-two relocated to renovated buildings, with the totals being four and five, respectively, just in the last year. Notably, it was stated that “the recent removal of the school department from the main floor at headquarters came just in time to relieve the danger of a collapse of the building.” More tables and chairs as well as books were lauded and it was stated that over 21,000 volumes were in libraries during the course of the year while “many collections were completely revised and restocked.”

Total circulation for materials was just a hair above 1.7 million and, even accounting for the loss of two libraries at Venice and Watts (annexed to the city system), this was a gain of 16% from the prior year. This meant that the county system was on par with such major ones as in Denver, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh, among others, but the widespread nature of the county was such that even people in far-flung sections had access to libaries like those in big urban centers. It was averred that “books are a recognized necessity of life and provision must be made for an ever increasing demand from the public” and no area should be left out from the opportunity of having “the library the most attractive place in each community.”

Improvements during the recent year included the creation of a children’s librarian, a quarterly bulletin starting in October 1926 (and which drew comments from elsewhere in the country and in the United Kingdom), and the holding of a pair of day-long conferences for system librarians “on common problems” with over sixty in attendance.

Statistically, the system had over 530,000 volumes with 169 community branches, 113 school districts served, four high schools served, and almost 92,000 borrowers checking out that 1.7 million items, including more than 800,000 adult fiction books, above 450,000 juvenile fiction works, some 279,000 non-fiction volumes, and 163,000 magazines.

The Museum of History, Science and Art reported on the completion of a new unit and the installation of exhibits of each department within it, while steel framing was finished on a second one “and reserve material is rapidly accumulating for ultimate display in this addition.” A “Junior Museum” was also established with a dedicated curator and the collaboration with the Nature Study division of city schools.

It was added that a new gallery was filled with a loan from the collection of Norwegian General Johann W.N. Munthe comprising Chinese art that was said to be of “unsurpassed quality, authenticity and condition” was which is now largely in Norway with some pieces acquired by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum at the University of Oregon in Salem. Another loan, for the Industrial Arts division, was of cast iron materials from early 19th century Germany and said to be “of special interest to artisans and manufacturers.”

The summary ended with the statement that attendance “exceeded all previous records” during the last year, aggregating nearly 725,000 visitors, including over 10,000 in just three hours in one day the previous August. These figures, it was concluded, “is the best available index of the growing appreciation of the recreational value to the community of the Los Angeles Museum.”

Woith regard to leisure time, the Big Pines Recreation Camp was also discussed. This major investment of resources in a valley next to Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains, opened partially in 1922 and fully two years later. The report covered maintenance; the animal park (including the addition of elk, bear, deer and buffalo) serving 80,000 people for the year; the mechanical depatment; fire, police and recreation, and construction and road maintenance.

This latter included a summary of new campgrounds, fireplaces, water lines, lighting, phones and seven “comfort stations.” A second Girl Scout camp, a swimming pool, a playground, grading for new structures, and drains to carry flood waters, were also highlighted. A statistical table noetd that over 137,000 people visited in almost 37,000 cars (and about 200 horses, motorcycles and hikers accessed the camp, as well), with expenses totaling just shy of $160,000 and revenues (mainly from meals) being almost $34,000. There were five fire calls (the roof of the powerhouse was burned), 40 persons arrested for violation of camp rules, forest regulations, and game laws, and more than 81,000 means were served.

In 1925, the county completed Patriotic Hall, a ten-story structure on Figueroa Street near where interstates 10 and 100 meet in downtown and the $736,000 building was a “meeting place and club rooms for ex-service men of the United States Army and Navy of all wars.” A 700-seat auditorium, two dining rooms serving 300 and 500 persons, a Grand Army of the Republic headquarters, United States Pension examining board rooms, a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting room, spaces for the Spanish War Veterans and the Amerian Legion, and a gymnasium with some public use for basketball game were all included. Renamed in 2004 for the late comedian Bob Hope, the structure underwent a seven-year renovation at a cost of $46 million and is now run by the county’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The Purchasing and Stores Department provided detail on all kinds of items bought through the year from meat, fruits and vegetables, staionary and tires and tubes, while the stores included a general facility and ones for the County Farm, General Hospital, Olive View Sanatorium, the stationery for the county and the Outdoor Relief division. Some specific materials included over 6,000 pairs of shoes, 80,000 pounds of prunes, 600,000 gallons of gasoline, 600,000 pounds of sugar, over 3.7 million drinking cups, and almost 1.4 million pounds of potatoes. In three years, the purchasing division acquisitions were up over 35%, the issue from the stores more than doubled, and the multigraph (printing) section revenues were up almost 84%.

Finally, the County Architect reported on operations since the department opened on 1 March 1927, with projects at the County Farm, Health Department, General Hospital, Olive View Sanatorium and other county properties summarized. With that, the report ended with facsimile signatures of the quintet of supervisors.

The consolidated balance sheet showed over $236 million in assets, including $68 in property and equipment, $17.5 million in capital, and almost $93 million in the school account. Liabilities included current ones at over $17 million, deferred ones at almost $132 million, almost $8 million in property acquired, and a general surplus at about $37.5 million and capital surplus at almost a million above that. Current expenditures for capital and special purposes was just $50,000 over current income and the carryover of unexpended income from the previous year was nearly $9 million, so this also was a good situation This showed the county at a healthy financial position, but one that would change dramatically in a few years once the Great Depression hit.

Detail for road improvement, drainage improvement, lighting maintenance, fire protection, sanitation, general improvement, school and other districts was also provided in great detail. A pie chart of the distribution of almost $104 million in revenues showed that almost 45% was to schools, and nearly a quarter to county and district levies, with county, district and school bonds, school grants, and other amounts showsn. Income from taxes, particularly general propery taxes and special district and school levies, accounted for two-thirds of revenue.

Expenditures totaling almost $112 million showed that about 55% were to education, with nearly 10.5% to highways and bridges, 10% to bonds and interest, 6.6% to general government, 7% to charities, hospitals and corrections, and a little over 5% to “protection to person and property.” Trust payments were another $18.5 million. Many pages were devoted to school district transactions, not surprising given the importance of education to the county’s financial system.

Comparative statements over the past five years showed the dramatic growth of the county and tax data is also interesting to peruse, as is the property valuation of county holdings (hall of records, court house, court buildings, the jail, the museum, County Farm, the museum and art institute, parks, and so much more) at $30 million with school property at more than five times that amount for an aggregate of nearly $190 million. Obviously, it can be quickly numbing to leaf through these pages, but also very instructive.

At the back is a fold-out map of the San Gabriel Valley with respect to the Regional Plan of Major Highways and seeing the area with its delineation of major and secondary highways, as well as parkways, largely along water courses before any concept of freeways is quite illuminating. Another fold-out document is a table of property values and indebtedness of the 58 counties in California, with Los Angeles County at $3.3 trillion in real estate, more than three times that of San Francisco (at just over $1 trillion being second-highest in the state), though the latter had about nine times the debt ($82 million to Los Angeles’ $8.7 million.

So, yes, this was a pretty deep delve and dive and there is a lot of bureaucratic material, with little of the human element, aside from some racist commentary from the Outdoor Relief Department and the account of two county fire warden enforcement officers being beaten, as well as mind-numbing financial data. Still, we can learn a great deal about late 1920s Los Angeles County from this report and the Homestead has others from 1915, 1923 and 1926 in its collection, so we’ll look to feature those in the future.

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